ATbar The “Forest Jihad”
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The “Forest Jihad”

28/10/2008 | by Fighel, Jonathan (Col. Ret.)  
From the beginning of September 2008, a renewed concern emanated from Western intelligence agencies to the effect that Al Qaeda terrorists were planning a “global fireball”, in a departure from its war on the West.[1] Deliberately lighting forest fires in Europe, the US and Australia, would not only stretch emergency services, but would also leave insurance companies facing multi-billion dollar claims, as the credit crunch bites.[2] The fires would also create a pollution disaster, with billions of tons of climate-change gases escaping into the atmosphere. The so-called “forest jihad” is being championed by Islamic scholars and Osama Bin Laden’s terror strategists who believe setting fire to dry woodlands will produce maximum damage at minimum risk.

Already back in November 2007, radical Islamic forums spelled out the terrorists’ mindset in graphic terms. One of the Arabic web sites affiliated with Al Qaeda’s ideas, called “Al-Ikhlas Islamic Network”, posted a long and detailed message, in which it was argued that lighting fires is an effective form of action, justified in Islamic law under the "eye for an eye" doctrine. The posting instructs remembering the "Forest Jihad" during the summer months, noting that "fires cause economic damage and pollution, tie up security agencies and can take months to extinguish.” Imagine, if after all the losses caused by such an event, a jihadist organization were to claim responsibility for the forest fires," the website says, "you can hardly begin to imagine the level of fear that would take hold of people in the United States, Europe, Russia and Australia."… [3]

Interestingly enough, the call explains the reasons for not setting fire to the Amazon forests in Brazil”. The targeted forests are those belonging to the countries, which are at war with the Muslims, (the United States, Europe, Russia, and Australia). Other nations, for example Brazil, are off limits to anyone seeking to burn the Amazon forests, based on the consideration that the rule and the exception to the rule do not apply. Brazil has not joined the armies of the crusade and it has not yet given us cause to respond in any way”.[4]

Another Al Qaeda affiliated website,”” posted a similar message on 27 December 2007, where supporters were reminded, “not to forget the summer forest jihad”. It added: “This is an invitation to the Muslims of Europe and America, Australia and Russia to burn forests.” [5] The message claims that the burning of trees, as a warfare method, is permitted in Islam and it quotes from the Qur’an to back it up. The “benefits” of the fires, are to cause casualties, hit tourist income, create timber shortages for domestic, industrial use and pharmaceuticals, and stretch emergency services.[6]

Terrorist Arson of Forest’s in Israel: The Palestinian experience

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, arson comprised about one-third of all forest fires in Israel, which is a very large proportion. Some of the sources of this arson were identified as the work of criminals, whose sole aim was to collect the insurance money. However, many instances of arson in the late 1980s were directly related to the Palestinian uprising (the first Intifada). Palestinians have used arson in the past as an insurgency method, as early as the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, but in the 1980s it was adopted as a highly visible action against Israel. Arson was found to be easy to execute: all one had to do was cross the old border between the West Bank and Israel, which was unguarded and open to all, start a fire in one of the many forests in the hilly areas near the border, and then disappear. According to the International Forest Fire News (IFFN), between 1988 and 1991 the number of fires attributed to arson rose to over 30%, which was explained by an increase in politically motivated arson associated with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.[7]

There were frequent occurrences of forest fires in areas adjacent to the old "Green Line" border between Israel and the West Bank, during the years 1988-1990. Between 288 and 388 forest fires were caused by arson, which occurred in areas near the old pre-1967 border.[8] In some of the fires, which occurred in northern Israel, Israeli Arab Palestinians were found to be responsible. These fires were extraordinary, given the fact that in 1988, there was a great deal of rain and, as a result, the vegetation was highly combustible.

The Intifada militants also began to systematically burn Israeli fields, orchards and forests, and whilst no lives were lost, considerable damage was caused.[9] Interviews conducted in 1988 with local Fatah leaders from the Tulkarem region, revealed that forests were regarded as the Israel government's property and were therefore a symbol deserving of arson.[10] Setting fires was employed as a tactic, politically motivated, aimed at damaging Israel's economy and exhausting its resources. The Palestinian propaganda increased the perception that forests were used intensively by the State of Israel as a “political tool”, to mark its presence on the ground along the “Green Line”, in order to underline its existing borders after the 1948 war and the creation of the State of Israel, which the Palestinians totally rejected (until the Oslo Accords in 1993).

During the initial Intifada period, Palestinians started dozens of Israeli forest fires, some quite extensive, intentionally as acts of arson for political reasons.[11] The evidence is overwhelming that these were deliberate acts of political sabotage and Palestinian arsonists have been apprehended as a result.[12] The Israeli police have apprehended Palestinians and Israeli Arabs in the act of setting fires, while others confessed to arson after their arrest.[13]

Some fires followed specific calls by underground Palestinian terror organizations to torch forests, and cause economic damage to Israel and its symbols. Incidents of arson proliferated during the period of the first Intifada, the inciting rhetoric was often disseminated in the leaflets, praising arson and call upon Palestinians to burn the land from underneath the Jews.

Some fires followed specific calls by underground Palestinian terror groups. The instances of arson carried out by the Palestinians were in accordance with the instructions issued by the underground leadership,”The Unified National Command of the Uprising ”(Al- Qiyada Al- Wataniyya Al- Muwahada lil-Intifada-Arabic)[14] which published leaflets providing information and instructions to the population. Typewritten leaflets were distributed across the West Bank and Gaza with instructions for action to be taken against Israel.

Leaflet No. 3 of the “Unified National Command of the Uprising” dated to 31 January 1988,” called for a fire to be set underneath the invader’s feet”[15]. Leaflet No. 7, issued on 13 February 1988, contained amongst other directions and instructions to perpetrate violent activities, a call to”..convert the uprising into a continious war of attrition against the occupation and its forces, causing heavy loss of human lives and damage to the political, economic and moral spheres”.[16] A leaflet distributed in the Ramallah region in the West Bank on 10 January 1988, on behalf of “The Women’s Association”(identified with the Fatah, The Palestinian Popular Front, The Palestinian Democratic Front and the Palestinian Communist Party) called to “praise the torching hands”.[17]

Leaflet No. 18, issued on 8 June 1988 by the Palestinian uprising's underground leadership, called for the destruction and burning of the enemy's properties, industry and agriculture. The leaflet presented plans of action, including…"on the 22.6.88 – a general strike - return to the land, sow and improve it - burn the enemy’s (Israel) property, industrial and agricultural facilities”.[18] In 1989, the PLO's Baghdad radio station described methods of arson through which "the orchards and fields of the Zionist enemy can be set ablaze." [19]

During the initial period of the first Palestinian Intifada, Israeli law enforcement and the judiciary system were engaged with countering the arson phenomena. An example demonstrating the Israeli punitive severity in its approach to Palestinian arson of forests is demonstrated in the Israeli Supreme Court verdict in the trial of Muhammad Bin Ali Jaradat (case number 1926/90,8 July 1990).[20] Between October 1988 and July 1989, Jaradat was involved in committing arson, as his Intifada activities. He was found guilty of arson, setting fire to Israeli agricultural property, fields, forests and crops. Jaradat was sentenced to 4 years imprisonment of which a year and a half were actual imprisonment, two and a half years conditional imprisonment and a monetary fine. In its verdict, the Supreme Court stated, "arson has become in recent years a widespread dangerous phenomenon".[21]

The Palestinian Hamas organization was also active (and still is) in projecting the economic Jihad ideology not only on the local arena of confrontation with Israel, but also on the global scale and against the USA. One of the movement's senior leaders, Dr. Abd al Aziz Rantisi, published a written statement on Hamas's official web site calling on Muslims all over the world to wage an economic Jihad against the United States. "Muslims must recruit their financial resources and capabilities to strike and weaken the U.S economy. American-made products must be boycotted, he said, and urged Muslims to offer any kind of possible financial aid and support to the Mujaheedin (Muslim warriors) fighting for the sake of Allah".[22]


During the second Lebanon war in the summer of 2006, Hezbollah deliberately launched hundreds of “Katyusha” rockets igniting forests in the northern parts of the Galilee, in the north of Israel. Many of the rockets, packed with tons of explosive material, landed and detonated in the forests, vineyards, orchards and open fields in the Galilee. The forests of Israel, which is a largely arid country, have been a major part of the Zionist-Israeli ethos, which Hezbollah intentionally attacked, as a tactic in promoting a demoralization effect that serves its terrorism strategy – terrorism as a psychological-economic warfare. Israel realized the logic in the Hezbollah method as an intention to exhaust Israel’s resources in simultaneously fighting a battleground in south Lebanon with the Hezbollah terrorists and inside Israel, confronting the severe blazing forests caused by Hezbollah, creating huge environmental damage.

The Galilee forests were destroyed, more than 800 fire incidents were reported, and more than 3000 acres of old woodland were blackened by the flames intentionally ignited by the Hezbollah. The scope of damage caused to landscapes and the environment in the Naftali Mountains, Biria forest and all the other forest and natural woodland areas, resulted in almost total destruction. According to an Israel Ministry of Environmental Protection report, the heavy toll on Israel’s natural environment included 800 forest fires, 750,000 burned trees, 12 square kms of burned forests, 66 square kms of burned nature reserves, national parks and open landscapes, 71 square kms of burned pasture land. Excluding overlaps, it is estimated that a total of 120 square kilometers of landscapes were burned, as a result of rocket hits in the summer of 2006.[23] The direct fire fighting operational costs exceeded NIS 20 million (not including physical damage and reconstructions).[24]


The “Forest Jihad” was an existing methodology for many years in the Israeli-Palestinian and Hezbollah conflicts. Forests arson was prevalent in many conflict regions in different parts of the world long before Al Qaeda’s appearance. But Al Qaeda apparently embraced arson as an additional tactic in promoting economic damage to the West, as a political tool to influence public opinion in the West and Western governments. Targeting the economy as a comprehensive radical Islamic ideology is a focal point of its ideology and its inspired operations. Osama bin Laden, called for attacks against the U.S. economy. "It is important to concentrate on the destruction of the American economy"[25] The notion of “Economic Jihad” is not new, following the September 11 attacks in the U.S., Al-Qaeda came out with a series of official statements introducing the idea of economic Jihad. According to al-Qaeda, targeting the U.S economy is one of the main pillars in Bin Laden's strategy of confronting the West.[26]

One of the pillars of Al-Qaeda's operational objectives in its war against the West, is striking at targets of high economic value, the so-called "bleed-until-bankruptcy plan" first made public by Osama bin Laden himself in December 2004.[27]

The execution of such attacks is primarily a function of the terrorists’ performance capabilities, and timing is usually determined by their degree of operational preparedness and their overall operational strategy of maximizing the economic and psychological damage to their adversaries.

The “Forest Jihad” (forest arson) is one manifestation of the “Economic Jihad” tactics, a tool in a variety of options to cause economic direct and indirect secondary damages. As stated in the message below, the radical Islamic logic in setting fires is regarded beneficial for several aspects that have strategic implications.” Typically, these fires take months rather than days to fully extinguish, this will temporarily hamper the export of timber, used primarily in the manufacture of furniture “…and this will also cause pharmaceutical companies to sustain losses, since trees contain key ingredients for medicinal drugs ”,“ …financial losses for the tourism industry”. “Keeping emergency and military personnel (a resource) tied up trying to fight the fires. Some units in Iraq or in Afghanistan could even be recalled, as happened with hurricane Katrina when it hit the United States”.

Finally, it should be stressed that arson is a relatively easy, no cost and simple action (box of matches, immersed cloth with gasoline and appropriate weather conditions), which does not need any, complicated prior preparations or a special operational infrastructure. Arson can be initiated by a small local isolated group of individuals or by a “lone wolf”, who in both cases may have no direct connection to Al Qaeda, but are only inspired by its ideology and their keenness to act. These facts make it hard, if not impossible, for law enforcement to detect, or prevent. In addition, one should bare in mind that random and spontaneous natural causes of forest fires, or large-scale abnormal natural disasters occurring in the U.S. or the West, were exploited in the past by Jihad entities for propaganda purposes, claiming that these were the punishments justly brought down by Allah as retaliation.

Arabic Website Urges Jihadists to Start Forest Fires

Forest Jihad Screen Capture

English translation of the statement follows:

"summer has begun so do not forget the Forest Jihad."
"In the name of God, the Gracious, the Merciful."
"We pray for God to aid us and heed our calls."
"Summer has begun so do not forget the Forest Jihad."
"I call on all Muslims in the United States, in Europe, in Russia, and
in Australia to start forest fires."

"Praise God and praise God once more."
"Peace and blessings upon his prophet."
"The active intellectual scholar, the jihadist Abu Mus'ab Al-Suri, may
God set him free, says: Jihad is an art just like poetry, music, and
the fine arts. There are people that draw and there are others that
are jihadists. They both act upon inspiration."
"May God ease his calamity and set him free along with all of our
imprisoned brothers. It is by the glory of God that his imprisonment
has not prevented him from publishing his writings in the form of
books and media. The idea of forest fires is attributed to him, may
God set him free, as is in this short clip:"

"This call goes out to Muslims in Europe, in the United States, in
Australia, and in Russia to start forest fires."
"Forest Fires."
"The Jurisprudence of forest fires, as in 'an eye for an eye'; the
amazing results; and the operational instructions."
"The Jurisprudence:
"Is it permissible to burn trees?"
"Yes, under certain circumstance, such as when the prophet, PBUH
[peace be upon him], burned the Jews' palm trees in Al-Nadir."
"Ibn Al-Qayyim narrated in [a book entitled] 'I'lam Al-Muwaqqa'in,'
that: You should retaliate in the same manner as that in, which you
were attacked. He goes on to say that: The punishment for a sin should
be a similar sin. He also mentions that: If you should punish, punish
as you were punished. This, in essence, justifies that. This suggests
that the punishment should fit the crime, for instance in life, in
matters of honor, and where assets are involved. Scholars have
justified chopping down and burning the infidels' forests when they do
the same to our lands."

"God Almighty agreed to allow the companions to cut down the Jews'
palm trees in order to dishonor them [Jews]. This was the Almighty's
intention when He said: 'Whether ye cut down (O ye Muslim!) the tender
palm-trees, or ye left them standing on their roots, it was by leave
of Allah, and in order that He might cover with shame the rebellious
transgressors. [Koranic Verse; Al-Hashr, 59:5].' This proves that God
Almighty wishes to punish the unjust aggressor. The justification for
burning their belongings is their aggression against Muslims and their
deception. It is they who burn the Muslims' wealth."

"This section was taken from a book by active and anonymous
[as received] jihadi scholar Yusuf al-Ayiri [28] may God accept him,
entitled: 'The Truth about the New Crusade.' This is particularly evident
in the Chapter regarding the times when it is permissible to kill those
among the infidels who would be otherwise protected. The first case in
this chapter addresses this topic. This is in the event the book entitled
'I'lam Al-Muwaqa'in' Shaykh Yusuf, may God have mercy on his soul,
is unavailable."

"Ibn Qudamah Al-Maqdasy writes in [his book entitled] 'Al-Muqni'
[The Convincer], in the chapter on killing infidels and shelling them with
manganese, as well cutting off their water supplies and destroying
their fortresses: Concerning the issue of uprooting or burning their
trees and plants, there are two views. The first is that it is permissible
to do so as long as it does not harm Muslims. The second is that it is
not permissible to do so unless it is justified to do so to them, for
instance when they have done the same to us. An eye for an eye."

"Shaykh Sulayman Bin Abdallah Bin Muhammad Bin Abd-al-Wahhab
narrates in 'Al-Muqni' that trees and plants can be divided into three
groups. The first group comprises [those trees and plants] which need
to be cleared for a particular purpose, and can thus be uprooted or
burned. This, however, solely on the basis of an undeniable need, as the
narrator explains. The second is that group whose uprooting will cause
Muslims harm. In this case, it is totally forbidden to uproot or to
burn them. The third encompasses all other cases, which can be further
divided into two subgroups. The first is a group that it is considered
permissible to uproot or burn in the Hanbali [Muslim scholar] school
of thought, where the scholars Malik, Shafi'i, and Ibn Al-Muthir
followed the Hadith of the Prophet, PBUH, in the case of the burning
of the palm trees in Bani Nadir, where God sent down the following:
'Whether ye cut down (O ye Muslim!) the tender palm-trees, or ye left
them standing on their roots, it was by leave of Allah, and in order
that He might cover with shame the rebellious transgressors.' [Koranic
Verse; Al-Hashr, 59:5]."

"This has been taken from page 486 of the book entitled 'Al-Muqn'i
Ma'a Hashiyatihi,' published by the Al-Salafiyyah [Salafist]
Publishing House in Cairo."

"Comment: The targeted forests are those that belong to those
countries that are at war with Muslims (The United States, Europe,
Russia, and Australia). Other nations, such as Brazil for example, are
off limits for anyone seeking to burn the Amazon forests, based on the
consideration that the rule and the exception to the rule do not
apply. Brazil has not joined the armies of the crusade and it has not
yet given us cause to respond in any way. God knows best."

"The damage caused by forest fires:"

"Typically these fires take months rather than days to fully
extinguish, which means that this terror will haunt them for an
extended period of time. The element of the summer months will aid in
spreading the fires due to the drop in rain levels."

"This will temporarily hamper the export of timber, used primarily in
the manufacture of furniture."

"This will also cause pharmaceutical companies to sustain losses,
since trees contain key ingredients for medicinal drugs."

"Also, it will eliminate, albeit only temporarily, the export of oils
from trees."

"Human losses:"

"Financial losses for the Tourism industry."

"[There will be] an increase in the emission of poisonous gases from
the smoke of the forest fires, and depending on the location, they
could spread to several European countries or to several US states."
"Keeping emergency and military personnel (a resource) tied up trying
to fight the fires. Some units in Iraq or in Afghanistan could even be
recalled, as happened with hurricane Katrina when it hit the United
States two years ago."

"Imagine if, after all the losses caused by such an event, a jihadist
organization were to claim responsibility for [starting] the forest
fires. You can hardly begin to imagine the level of the fear that
would take hold of people in the United States, in Europe, in
Russia, and in Australia. Also, as a result of the claim, a political rift
would develop between the ruling parties and the local opposition
parties in those countries. Another effect would be that the people in
those countries would lose confidence in their leaders, leading to a
shift in voting intentions to the parties in opposition. These
opposition parties might then champion the drive to withdraw their
troops from Iraq and from Afghanistan, should they get into power."
"These losses are just examples, and we cannot list them all."

"Operation method:"

"Before we describe how this operation is to be implemented, do not
assume that it is impossible. The media across Europe report forest
fires almost every year, and cause is usually just a rise in the
average temperature. However, some people, acting behind the scenes,
may have contributed to fueling the fires."

"In the video by active scholar Abu Mus'ab Al-Suri, may God set him
free, in the aforementioned link, he argues that one of the more
successful way to burn a forest is to use sulfur acid, the
substance you find in matches, to light the fires. You place the
substance in the forest for a mere half an hour and it will surely
find something to eat [burn the trees], with the grace of God."

"There are other alternative options for those who lack the experience
to use sulfur acid or other substances, with the grace of God."

"You and your friend should go out on a beautiful forest trip (which
we call 'Kishtah' in the Arabian Peninsula) and enjoy yourselves
there. Start a fire to cook your food, and when you have finished, use
those same embers to ignite the fires by collecting them against a
tree until it is completely engulfed in flames."

"You may also use some of your car fuel and spray it across several
trees, and use those embers on those trees as well."

"These are just some of the countless examples, and as active jihadist
scholar Abu Mus'ab al-Suri, may God set him free, said, terrorism is
an art."

"Go, and set forth on your jihad, and once more plant joy in the
hearts of your Muslim brothers."
"I ask that this article be translated into the English language, and
have that translation sent using the special methods used by the
Ikhlas Network."

"By: Abu Thar Al-Kuwaiti."
"Al-Ikhlas Islamic Network"


[1] September 7, 2008

[2] October 19,2008

[3] November 26, 2007.

[4] Ibid.

[5] December 7, 2007.

[6] Ibid.

[7] “Integrated Forest Fire Management in Israel - A 15 Year Review (1987-2002)”, International Forest Fire News (IFFN) No. 29 (July – December 2003, 72-88).

[8] Nurit Kliot, "Forests and Forest Fires in Israel”, Haifa University, Department of Geography (IFFN No. 15 - September 1996, p. 2-6),

[9] Walter Laqueur, No End to War: Terrorism in the Twenty-first Century (Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004) p.104.

[10] The author's meetings during 1988 with: Hilmi Hanun-Tulkarem mayor, Fathi Dado-Head of Tulkarem Chamber of Commerce, Adnan Damiri-Fatah activist.

[11] Kliot, "Forests and Forest Fires in Israel”.

[12] The Jewish news weekly “Israeli fires burn homes, thousands of acres of forest”, October 16, 1998.

[13] World Net Daily “More evidence of terror in fires” 28 October 2003.

[14] The Arabic word QAWM was the acronym of “The National Unified Command of the Uprising”. QAWM also means struggle, fight, and combat.

[15] Collection of the First Palestinian Intifada Leaflets. (Author’s private archive).

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Baghdad Voice of the PLO, (May 12, 1989).

[20] The State Of Israel V.S Muhammad Bin Ali Jaradat, criminal appeal 1926/90,8 July 1990.

[21] Ibid.

[22] .See also Rantisi speech,3 September 2003,

[23] Israel Ministry of Environmental Protection, in ISRAEL ENVIRONMENT BULLETIN, vol.32 ”Restoring Burned Forests in Israel’s North”.

[24] Report on the damage to JNF forests.

[25] USA TODAY,” Bin Laden calls for attacks on U.S. economy” 27 December 2001.

[26] Colonel (res.) Yoni Fighel and Yoram Kehati,” Mending the Hearts of the Believers - Analysis of Recent Al-Qaida Documents, Part 1”28 November 2002.The International Policy Institute for Counter Terrorism.

[27], “Bin Laden: Goal is to bankrupt U.S.”, 2 November 2004.

[28] Afghan veteran Yusuf al-Ayiri, the al-Qaeda ideologist, and media coordinator who was killed in a security manhunt in Hayil (northern Saudi Arabia) in 2003.